Parsha Mitzvot: Re’ei: The Three Pilgrimage Festivals
The mounds of garbage left by Sunday revelers colored my Monday morning hike around Van Cortland Park. One large square of the park was obviously the scene of a child’s birthday party. There were balloons,
broken toys, an abandoned grill, Dora the Explorer cups and plates strewn all over the park. I walked a little further into the park and saw an inebriated swan swerving among the leftovers of a serious beer party. They use the park. They love the park, but they do not follow its rules.
How can people expect the city to provide a safe and clean park for their parties if they ruin the park when they use it? They are even worse than my children!
I wonder if the Jerusalem sanitation department had to worry about such things after the three Pilgrimage Festivals when the entire nation would gather in Jerusalem.
I wonder because, although the people are warned in this portion that once the Temple is built we may not make offering on private altars (Deuteronomy 12:13) the people never stopped. They continued to have private places of worship all through the First Temple period. They did not feel a special attachment to Jerusalem. I suspect that people who did not feel drawn and connected to God’s Temple did not respect the Temple and its surrounding area. So, I wonder if the JSD – Jerusalem Sanitation Department – had experience dealing with the kinds of messes that were all over Van Cortland Park.
“Three times a year all your males should appear before God, your Lord, in the place that He will choose.” (Deuteronomy 16:16) The Temple was a place where we came to be “seen” by God. We would celebrate. (Deuteronomy 16:14) We would celebrate the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God, to be ‘seen” by Him, as it were. People continued to observe the Pilgrimage festivals even as they maintained their private altars. They understood the power of the place, yet they did not experience a sense of connection.
That is not much different from people who religiously attend synagogue but do not feel connected to their place of worship. These are the same people who would drop garbage in synagogue or even speak during prayers. We do not always connect. Perhaps the issue is rules vs. connection:
It is unlikely that I will feel connected to prayer if I pray only because it is the rule, because I must. How will I ever feel connected to the place I pray if I cannot connect to my prayers?
People who kept a private altar in their backyards would not experience the Temple as their place of connection with God. They had a strong awareness of God’s Presence, so strong, in fact, that they felt they could connect with God anywhere. They did not need the Temple. They traveled to Jerusalem for each of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals because they “had to”: it was the rule.
No wonder God asks us to view the Torah as offering a path filled with blessings: “Re’ei” – See the Torah as an opportunity to discover the blessings it offers. The Torah wants us to feel connected and attached to her. It is not a list of rules, but a relationship workbook, a treasure map of the wonderful opportunities that enrich a life lived with that attachment.